Joy and Exasperation as Economic Crisis Hits Ethiopia’s Poor

Lane Bunkers, CRS’ country representative for Ethiopia, shares the impact of the global economic crisis on the destitute and dying.

Ethiopia food

CRS provides food to the 17 centers run by the Missionaries of Charity in Ethiopia. This food support enables the Sisters to feed 40,000 of Ethiopia’s neediest each year. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

In the five months that my family and I have made our home in Ethiopia, I have visited the Missionaries of Charity’s Home for the Destitute and Dying in the capital of Addis Ababa on numerous occasions. Each time I visit, I experience the same two feelings.

The first feeling is joy, which comes over me as soon as I am greeted by Sister Janeke and Sister Amrit. With their infectious smiles and constant good nature, you can’t help but feel a sense of contented calm in their presence. After a volley of inquiries about each other’s health and families, the sisters often call over Sister Catalina, who is from Romania. I lived there from 1997 to 1999, so I greet her in my rusty Romanian, and we share a laugh in her native language. Even though I am very aware that people are dying all around the Sisters, I cherish this moment of levity and celebration before we move further into the center. 

The second feeling is exasperation-and it usually sets in by the time we have visited the home’s first ward, which is for terminally ill men. Even after numerous visits, the sheer number of people on their death beds overwhelms me; maybe it’s because these numbers continue to increase. As the global economic crisis plays out around the world, nowhere is it more obvious than in places like this center: a home provided for the world’s most forgotten and destitute to receive loving care or even pass their final days.

Ethiopia hunger

This photo was taken at the Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes in the capital of Addis Ababa. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Sister Janeke’s quick steps guide us through the numerous wards full of residents lying on cots and mattresses, through the laundry room with its enormous wash tubs perched on open fires boiling germs out of sheets and pajamas, and through the kitchen where a small army of women hovers over large round griddles preparing the spongy, sour pancake known as injera, the staple of the local diet. At each turn, Janeke is quick to share details, reciting from memory how many men are in one ward, how many women in another, how many meals they have prepared that month, and how much more food they need to satisfy the ever-increasing demand.

Across Ethiopia, the Missionaries of Charity manage 17 of these centers. In a country where the poverty is so staggering it can be difficult to imagine, the current economic downturn is putting an incredible strain on the vital humanitarian services the Missionaries of Charity provide-requiring us, their valued partner, to redouble our efforts.    

So I continue to make the visits. Fortunately, the feeling of joy strengthens in the presence of the Sisters. And with each visit, the feeling of exasperation slowly shifts to an honored respect for each human life, increasing my motivation to carry on with our agency’s work.   

Ethiopia is one of more than 100 countries whose people you help when you partner with CRS in reaching the world’s poorest. The global financial crisis has, of course, hurt everyone. It has made helping more difficult even as it increases the desperation of needy people. If you are at all inclined and able to help, know that what may seem an insignificant amount to you is nothing less than lifesaving. Even a little bit can make a big difference.

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